If you want to find what you are looking for on the web, use a single search engine and get to know its quirks.
Searching can be a frustrating experience
US researchers studying the best way to find information online say trying the same query on different search engines rarely produces the best results.
Instead searchers should become more familiar with their favourite search engine and use its advanced features to refine results.
The researchers found that only 10% of net seekers were tuning their searches using the extras offered by most search sites.
The good thing about the net is the depth and diversity of information online.
But this does mean that it is often hard to separate what you want from the mass of irrelevant webpages thrown up by almost every net search.
US researchers Bernard Jansen and Caroline Eastman studied the way that people look for information online and found that the individual quirks of search sites make it hard to define a single strategy to find what you want every time.
"There are no wholesale rules about structuring a query that will work on multiple search engines," said Bernard Jansen, assistant professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State University.
TOP SEARCH TIPS
Stick to one search engine
Get to know its advanced features
Be as specific as possible
Put search term in quotes
Use words like "or", "must appear" or "not"
"And what works on one engine, such as narrowing a query, can have the opposite effect on other search engines," he said.
For instance, refining a search on Google using "or" significantly changes the results it returns but does not have the same effect on the MSN and AOL search sites.
In their study of 600 queries the two scientists found that 60% of results returned for a particular set of terms will be the same across all search sites.
Instead of looking for the pages that every search engine returns when searching, Professor Jansen and his co-author recommend that users become as familiar as possible with one search engine and stick to it.
The researchers found that only 10% of people refine the results served up to them using words such as "or", "must appear" or try to ensure their search terms are treated as a single phrase.
Refining a search with such words can make a big difference to the numbers of pages returned.
For instance, looking up "monkey" and "tennis" on Google produces 109,000 hits. By contrast, searching for "monkey tennis" as a phrase returns only 2,200.
Professor Jansen said users who understood how best to search on one or two engines should use them until systems designers figure out how to personalise information retrieval.